The Seeds of Grace.*
Lessons from the Pentecostarion, according to the Typicon of the Byzantine-Ruthenian Rite:
1 Corinthains 16: 13-24.
Matthew 21: 33-42.
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
A Postfestive Day of the Dormition.
The Holy Martyrs Florus & Laurus.
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11:39 AM 8/18/2013 — Like so many of the things said by our Lord, the parable he speaks to us in this gospel lesson has more than one meaning. On the surface, our Lord has a very definite message for his listeners there in the Temple. He speaks of a vineyard which is leased out to others by it’s owner; he speaks of servants who are sent by the owner to collect the year’s harvest from the tenants, and how the servants are beaten and killed by the tenants who have forgotten that they don’t own the vineyard; and finally he speaks of a son who is sent and who is killed. The symbolism is almost too simple: the owner of the vineyard is, of course, God the Father, who has offered his covenant—his vineyard—to the Jewish people. And when his people go astray, he sends them his servants, the prophets, to remind them that they are not the owners, that they owe an accounting of their lives to God. But the servants—the prophets—are ignored, and some are killed, as we know frequently happened in the Old Testament. And in a final act of compassion and fatherly concern, the vineyard owner, God, sends his own Son, at which point we realize our Lord is speaking about himself. Isn’t it interesting that when our Lord speaks in the parable of how the son of the owner is killed because of the tenant’s greed, he is predicting his own death at the hands of his own people?
The Pharisees and the Hebrew priests who were present in the Temple that day were not stupid. They knew our Lord was speaking about them; St. Matthew tells us as much. But what he does not tell us—what he cannot tell us—is what our Lord may be trying to say to us, today. Everything said by our Lord has a double meaning; and, while the parable of the vineyard may be, to our Lord’s historical audience, an allegory about the history of the Jewish people and the role of Christ in salvation, it also must teach us something about ourselves, and something more than just a historical lesson.
For the Lord has also entrusted to us a vineyard. He has given us new life through baptism. He has given us the Church and the sacraments as fountains of grace and life. He has given us the Gospel as a path to heaven. He has placed in our own hands the possibility of salvation and eternal life. He has sent us teachers to correct our faults, not only the prophets of old, but also the Fathers of the Church, the saints, the martyrs, the popes. Sometimes we listen, sometimes we don’t. And the day will come when he will ask for an account of how well we have harvested the seeds that he has provided. And if there is no fruit, that will not be his fault, but ours; for just as the vineyard owner sent his son to collect the harvest, just as the Father sent Christ our God to collect the harvest of the covenant from the Jewish people, so again the Father will send the Son as King and Judge of the world. And he will ask us to show him the lives of purity and virtue and holiness that we have reaped from the seeds of grace he has given us.
In the Divine Liturgy we are thrust into the very presence of God. In receiving Holy Communion we are given more grace than was ever given to the prophets of old. But it is not magic. Even the act of being in the very presence of Christ our God in the Eucharist, even the act of taking him into our souls in Holy Communion, does not compel us to do good against our will. We have to make a decision that, after we have received our Lord and go forth from this Church back out into the world, that we will live as if Christ lives in us. We have to decide whether, when others see us act or hear us speak, they will be able to see Christ in us. And if, when they see us, they see nothing different than they saw before, then what was the point?
This does not mean that coming to church is supposed to make us perfect. Far from it. St. John, remember, in his First Epistle, says quite candidly that anyone who says he is not a sinner makes Christ a liar (cf. 1 John 1:10). But St. John Chrysostom explains how, even though all men are sinners, there is still a difference between the just and the unjust: he says that the just man, when it is pointed out that he has sinned, is contrite; but the wicked man, when his sin is exposed, becomes angry because he has been caught. How should we react when we examine our consciences and realize that we are not perfect?
Christ, once again, will plant the seed of his grace into our souls today when we receive him in Holy Communion. Let us not allow that seed to wither and die in a parched, arid land. Let us water it with virtue, tend it with prayer, prune it with sacrifice and mortification, so that when the vineyard owner comes, we can return to him a rich harvest.
* The icon of today's Gospel displayed with this post is of Ethiopian origin. The Ethiopian Catholic Church is one of three Eastern Catholic Metropolitan Churches sui iuris, the other two being the Metropolitan Church sui iuris of Mukachevo-Uzhorod and the Metropolitan Church siu iruis of the USA (in which your author presently serves). The term sui iuris means "in and of itself," meaning that the Church is not a "province" of a larger Church, but stands alone as its own Church within the communion of Catholicism. Such Churches within the Catholic union are usually small, either consisting of only a handful of eparchies (dioceses), or confined within the boundries of one country. The Metropolitain Archbishop and his Council of Hierarchs answer directly to the Holy Father. This is in constrast to the term "metropolitain" as used in the Latin Church or in an Eastern Catholic Church which is "Patriarchal" or "Major Archepiscopal," in which it refers to an archbishop who is head of a metropolitan province within a larger Church."